Thursday, April 5, 2012
DIAMONDS ARE A KID’S BEST FRIEND
OPENING DAY—Today is the first day of the 2012 major league baseball season. Padres play the dreaded Dodgers at Petco Park tonight. But, let’s go back to 1957 when the minor league San Diego Padres were the hot ticket. ‘Fifty-seven was a busy year for baseball aficionados of all ages. It was a year the fans more often wore fedoras instead of baseball caps and many women attended opening day games at Lane Field in coats, skirts and heels.
And, at the end of 1957, the minor league San Diego Padres abandoned the 5,000-person ballyard at the foot of Broadway for greener pastures to play in Westgate Park (now the northeast corner of Fashion Valley mall). It was the year La Mesa 12-year-olds produced the first Little League team from the County to win the national title at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. And in April, 1957, another bunch of school kids played hooky from school and paid 50 cents to sit in the right field bleachers on opening day.
Back then the hero of bleacher bunch hero was Earl Rapp, who hit 24 homers in 1953 and 1954. His last year in San Diego would be 1957. Every time Earl would come to the plate we all crossed our fingers that he’d hit one foul toward us or better yet smack a home run over the right field wall into Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).
Souvenir ball chasers not in the bleachers, most likely were outside Lane Field on the east side of PCH. The kids knew a ball flying out of the park would often clear four-lanes of traffic causing a scramble amid the tracks of nearby Santa Fe Depot.
Lore has it that a Padres home run, reportedly stroked by the venerable Luke Easter, landed in a passing train and the ball ended up in Los Angeles becoming the longest homer ever hit.
Lane Field was built downtown in 1936 for the Padres, who called it home through 1957 when the team moved into Westgate Park. By 1969, Westgate gave way to San Diego Stadium when the Padres joined the Major Leagues. Later named Jack Murphy then Qualcomm, the stadium was home to two World Series 1984 and 1998 before the team moved to Petco Park for opening day 2004.
Source: This article appeared first in San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles Magazine, April, 2012. By Thomas Shess.
Image: Opening Day 1957, Lane Field from the archives of the San Diego History Center.